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Trauma Exposure Response

By: Dr. Sthefany Alviar

Are you constantly exposed to traumatic content on the news, social media, work or in your relationships? Do you often experience other’s suffering, hardship, crisis, or trauma?

You may be experiencing trauma exposure…

Let’s identify some common terms:

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

Overwhelm is to be completely submerged by your thoughts and emotions about all of life’s current problems, to the point where you lack efficacy and feel frozen or paralyzed.

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.

Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others.

Vicarious trauma is a state of tension and preoccupation of the stories/trauma experiences described by others of their experiences.

Secondary Stress Disorder is the emotional distress that results from hearing about the firsthand trauma experience of another; symptoms can mimic those of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As humans, we are constantly striving to feel physically and psychologically safe. When we cannot attain safety within ourselves, we (our brain and body) begin to function in “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. When we spend too much time in these states, our tolerance for stress increases and our trauma responses heighten.

“Trauma exposure response may be defined as the transformation that takes place within us as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet” (van Dernoot Lipsky, 2009)… or our own suffering and chronic hardships.

These are common trauma exposure responses (from Trauma Stewardship Institute, 2020):

1. Feeling helpless, and hopeless, and that one can never do enough

2. Hypervigilance and always serious

3. Anger and cynicism

4. Guilt/fear/complicated grieving

5. Lack of awe

6. Sense of persecution: choosing to remain powerless in the face of adversity

7. Fight/flight/immobility response

8. Dissociative moments

9. Inability to see options and diminished creativity

10. Physical ailments, depression, anxiety, and other mental health considerations

11. Chronic exhaustion and saturated nervous system

12. Pulled towards confirmation bias and away from critical thinking

13. Lack of presence/deliberate avoidance/cognitive overload

14. Intense/rigid/controlling/unable to embrace complexity

15. Disheartened and dispirited

16. Grandiosity: an inflated sense of importance related to oneself

17. Negativity bias and not assuming well

18. Difficulty empathizing/minimizing/numbing

19. Sub-impeccable/toxic conduct and compromised impulse control

20. Addictions

21. Loneliness/isolation/strained relationships

It can be helpful to identify whether you are experiencing trauma exposure responses in order to find next steps to address your symptoms and increase healthy functioning. If you would like support through your exposure to trauma or stress, contact


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